Protecting Your Transplants

A broccoli plant protected by a milk carton.

If you have ever transplanted young plants into your garden, you know all of the challenges of keeping those plants alive so they can develop into hardy, mature vegetable plants. Over the years I have tried several ways of protecting the young plants, but the best method I’ve found so far is to simply place a milk carton around the plant. This was something my grandparents always did to protect their young plants until they were well established, and I have just not been able to find anything cheaper, or better, for serving this purpose.

I collect cardboard milk cartons all year-long to use as  protective shells for my transplants. I start by cutting the top and bottom off of the milk carton. Then, I wash the carton and allow it to air dry. Once they are dry, I place them in storage until its time to plant.

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Starting Seeds with Soil Blocks

It’s that time of year again to start thinking about starting your seeds indoors. It’s a great way to get a jump on spring. For the last few years I have been using soil blocks to start my seedlings. They are a great alternative to those plastic seed starting cells. There is a small initial investment in purchasing the soil block molds, but once that’s complete your done. Unlike the plastic cells you need to buy every few years.

If you are considering using soil blocks to start your seeds, there are a few things you’ll need:

  1. Soil block makers: I suggest purchasing a 3/4″, 1-1/2″, and 2″ block molds
  2. Seed starting soil: see the recipe below
  3. Trays: Any seed starting tray will do. I prefer to use photo developing trays, they are thicker and have channels on the bottom. I also use old cake pans, for smaller blocks.
  4. Hardware cloth (wire mesh): 1/4″ or 1/2″ grid, cut to fit in the bottom of the tray.

Soil Block Makers

Soil blocks are created by molding soil into a particular size cube. There are several size soil block molds available on the market today. I own a 3/4″, 1-1/2″, and 2″ mold. The 2″ mold has inserts that can be installed to create an opening in the block to receive a 3/4″ block. This allows you to block up as the plants begin to grow. The block size is often determined by the seed size, I use a 3/4″ block for lettuce, flowers, broccoli, and tomatoes (just to name a few), but a 1-1/2″ block for squash seeds. The 2″ blocks are great for blocking up from a 3/4″ block.

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Summer Reading for a Gardener

The cover of A Rich Spot of Earth and The Intelligent Gardener.

Here are two great gardening books to read this summer, while you are on vacation or just relaxing at home.

The first book is “A Rich Spot of Earth” Thomas Jefferson’s Revolutionary Garden at Monticello by Peter J. Hatch. If you are interested in gardening history or heirloom vegetables this is the perfect book for you.

The author Peter Hatch has been the director of the Gardens and the Grounds at Monticello since 1977. He gives a great first hand account of how the Gardens at Monticello have been restored over the years and how they came to look the way they do today.

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Preparing for the Fall Garden

A tray of fall seedlings.It sounds crazy, summer has not even begun and we are already preparing for our fall garden. But in order to have our broccoli, cabbage and swiss chard plants ready to plant by the middle of July, I had to start the seeds inside about two weeks ago.

I start all of my seeds in soil blocks, made from my homemade soil block mix. This year I planted 25 broccoli blocks, 15 cabbage blocks and 10 swiss chard blocks. I will keep these under my grow lights (click here to learn more about my homemade grow light stand) until a week before I am ready to plant them outside, at which point I will slowly move them outside to harden them off.
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Garden Update 6-16-13

Lettuce PlantsI can use one word to describe our garden right now “Growing”. Over the last few weeks we have been really busy planting a wide variety of vegetables for our summer garden and even harvesting a few things from our spring garden.

Last spring I had a really hard time growing lettuce, but that is not the case this year. Over the last few weeks we have been enjoying a wide selection of lettuces. We have been enjoying some great homegrown salads.

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Garden Update 4-7-13

Greens in the spring garden

One thing you begin to realize the longer you garden is what little control you have over certain things, like the weather. Here in the Northeast, Spring has finally arrived, after a colder than normal March. This has set my planting schedule back a few weeks, just one of the many adjustments you learn to make during the gardening season.
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A Simple Seed Starting Stand

Wire shelf seed starting stand.

Depending on your location and planting schedule, it may soon be time to start thinking about starting those seeds indoors. If you are considering trying this for the first time, here is a simple stand that you can build quickly to get things started.

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Winter Garden Update – 1-5-13

Winter Garden Vegetables

Even with snow on the ground our winter garden is still surviving. With the shorter days not much is really growing this time of year, but everything is still alive.

Throughout December we had several really nice harvests of lettuce, green onions, carrots, swiss chard and radishes. It was really nice having some fresh greens on a cold day. Continue reading

Winter Garden Update – 11-29-12

Lettuce in the winter garden.Even though we are still four weeks away from winter I am still considering our winter garden a success. As you can see in the photos, we have a lot of great vegetables still growing in the garden, even as we near the end of November. Continue reading

Winter Garden Update – 11-7-12

Rows of winter greens.Despite the fact that the days are getting shorter and the weather is getting colder, our garden is doing really well. We have been harvesting carrots, radishes, lettuce, swiss chard, kale, arugula, and spinach. It’s a great time of year for greens.

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